The Saints couldn’t contain the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson on Monday night. Next comes a matchup — two in the next three weeks, actually — with Cam Newton’s Panthers, who swept the season series last year.
“With mobile quarterbacks, it puts you in limbo because sometimes when you’re in man (defense), you leave your man, and that’s when he beats you with his arm. But if you stay on your man, that’s when he beats you with his legs.” CURTIS LOFTON, Saints linebacker
After failing to contain Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the New Orleans Saints defense is faced with an even bigger challenge Sunday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is 6-plus inches taller and approximately 45 pounds heavier than Wilson — and he presents just as many problems with his ability to run designed option keepers, scramble under duress and extend plays.
The strategic approach to defending both quarterbacks is similar, but Saints middle linebacker Curtis Lofton hopes the results are different Sunday “because we didn’t do a good job of stopping Wilson.’’
“We can’t let (Newton) break containment,’’ Lofton said. “We got to keep him in the pocket. When he gets out in the open and moves around, he makes big plays with his legs and arm. We got to be gap-sound, be efficient and play Saints football.’’
It was anything but Monday night in the Pacific Northwest. Wilson had the Saints defense eating out of his hand, accounting for 357 yards from scrimmage and three passing touchdowns in the Seahawks’ 34-7 victory at CenturyLink Field.
That game thrust Wilson into the conversation for MVP honors, and the Saints now find themselves tied with the streaking Panthers atop the NFC South with four games left in the regular season. One of those games is a rematch Dec. 22 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
“This is what we just faced with Wilson and Seattle, and that is what we’re going to face again this week,’’ Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “They run the ball all day, and then they hit these big, explosive plays downfield. We have to keep Cam in the pocket and eliminate big plays down the field.’’
The Panthers (9-3) have won a franchise-best eight consecutive games since starting 1-3 in part because of Newton, who has meant every bit as much to his team as Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Russell mean to theirs.
Newton is playing at an elite level, accounting for 3,063 yards from scrimmage, 25 touchdowns and a respectable 88.1 passer rating. He is making good decisions, committing few turnovers (11 interceptions, one fumble) and being the type of leader that team officials anticipated when they made him the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.
“Some guys will scramble to run, and some guys will scramble to throw,’’ Saints coach Sean Payton said. “I think (Newton) is very confident with either option. You have seen him grow with confidence, and you have seen the players around him playing with that same confidence. There are a lot of things that he brings to the table that make it very difficult to defend.’’
Last season, in Payton’s absence, Newton engineered a series sweep of the Saints, giving Carolina an 8-6 edge since 2006. The Panthers amassed 993 yards of total offense (492 on the ground) and scored eight rushing touchdowns in their 35-27 and 44-38 victories.
Newton (447 rushing yards) runs the show but gets plenty of help from running backs DeAngelo Williams (610), Mike Tolbert (301) and Jonathan Stewart (164), who have combined to make the Panthers the ninth-most productive rushing offense (129.3 yards per game) in the NFL.
Newton has led the Panthers in rushing in each of their past three games.
“With mobile quarterbacks, it puts you in limbo because sometimes when you’re in man (defense), you leave your man, and that’s when he beats you with his arm,’’ Lofton said. “But if you stay on your man, that’s when he beats you with his legs.
“For us, you want to play your lanes but, at the same time, you have to beat somebody up front. It comes down to man versus man, and somebody has to win. We need all 11 guys to contain him. That’s all we’re focusing on this week — doing your job.’’